Here’s a story that’s both sweet and pathetic: a couple hundred London atheists have started coming together on Sunday mornings in an unused church to have a very special time together. Let’s look in:
“I feel sorry for the church next door, waiting for their three people to trickle in,” says Nick Julius, glancing at the small adjacent hall that will shortly be hosting its own gathering.
The atheist gathering, that is. More:
The service opens with a song, led by Evans and an enthusiastic band at the front; instead of a hymn, however, it is “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (“We’ve chosen something that allows hamming it up to the max”). The service features a reading, a moment of reflective silence, even a collection to pay for the rental of the church, during which people are invited to turn in the pews and greet those sitting beside and behind them. The plan in future is to engage members in community-based good works.
There is also a sermon, of sorts, on the day’s theme of “wonder”, which sees Dr Harry Cliff, a particle physicist from Cambridge, talking about Dirac’s equation predicting antimatter (“the most amazing theory in history”) and the enormous statistical odds against the universe existing in the first place. The congregation then stands to sing Superstition by Stevie Wonder.
Well, whatever. I cannot for the life of me imagine wanting to spend my Sunday morning listening to a stand-up comedian, a scientist, and a bunch of my fellow godless persons singing old pop tunes and congratulating each other on how much smarter they are than the God-botherers down the street. But their mileage undoubtedly varies. It’s touching to see that you can kill God in your midst, but you cannot kill the religious instinct. Still, I think this fellow has it right:
David Robertson, director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and a Church of Scotland minister in Dundee, is also doubtful. “I can understand why the format of church would be very appealing,” he says, “but I do think it’s going to appeal only to one particular section of the community” – what he calls “a middle-class cultural elite”.